Charlotte's Web Thoughts
Charlotte's Web Thoughts
Hopelessly Devoted to You

Hopelessly Devoted to You

Thanks for everything, Olivia.
Olivia Newton-John and Didi Conn (image: David Becker / Stringer)

It was the Summer of 1996, and I was 9 years-old.

My mother, her third husband, my sister, and me were living in a trailer park many miles outside Fort Hood, Texas. I don’t know how far out we were, but it was far enough that there was nothing else around.

It was remote. It was hot. It was bleak.

The trailer park was a small one, about ten boxes total arranged in a crooked semicircle, and there were six kids in the neighborhood, all of us around the same age range, more or less, and the Texas sun was almost as unforgiving as the stickers that didn’t need more than a few times to teach us to wear our shoes outside.

The sunsets were almost always gorgeous—as Texas sunsets tend to be—but you had to work for them. You had to get through the heat.

Our mother worked nights and most days, and her husband was often training with his Army tank unit, which mercifully kept him away most of that summer.

It was just us kids. We would chance the heat for an hour or two during the day and finally retreat indoors. There was no A/C. There were no computers. There were few books. There were no adults. And there was no cable.

Here’s what we had: a television, about a dozen VHS tapes, our imaginations, and each other.

That summer was, I hope, the closest I’ll ever come to being stranded on an island.

Because our trailer had the only working TV in the group—which, even as I type that, seems improbable but it’s quite true—the six of us would gather in our living room and watch one of the tapes together.

By far, by a mile, the tape we watched the most was “Grease” — often multiple times a day because what the hell else were we gonna do? Over those few months, we probably watched that movie at least a hundred times. Even now, I could probably do most of the script from memory.

I fell in love with Olivia Newton-John. I really wanted to be her. I wanted to sing like her. I wanted to dress like her. Being the nerd I was, I wanted good grades like her. I wanted a cute poodle skirt and long hair and a ribbon to secure it. And that was all quite scary to think about, and I didn’t know what to do with it.

There were four girls and two boys, but given that it was Central Texas and the mid-90s and a conservative environment in those parts and I was firmly in the closet, the group saw itself as three girls and three boys.

The oldest girl was three years older than the rest of us, and she lived across from our trailer in the semicircle. Her name was Samantha. She had a younger brother about a year younger than me.

I was in awe of her, but also: she was a bit annoying because whenever we’d reenact the scenes from “Grease”, she’d play Sandy and insist that I—being the oldest “boy”—play Danny, which pissed me off, and I certainly had no way of explaining this to anyone, so I didn’t say anything.

After a few times of our doing “You’re the One That I Want” together, she said, in quite a serious tone: “You have a really good voice”. And from then, confirmed and smitten, I pledged to sing with her whenever she asked, despite my annoyance that I couldn’t play Sandy.

But at night, as the heat melted into something bearable and the crickets sang their own songs, I would lay in bed and softly hum “Hopelessly Devoted to You”, trying to see if I could do what she did. That soon turned into daytime walks I would take by myself near the trailer park—not exactly a safe activity for a 9 year-old in those days—and away from other human ears, I would sing the song out loud, over and over, sensing the places that needed a bit of sanding, shaping my voice to what I heard on the television.

I would do this in 20 min. spurts, braving as much heat as I could, and arriving back at the trailer, sweaty and pink and numbed from the vibrations of my voice, my sister and our friends, with eyebrows raised, would ask: “Where were you? Why do you keep disappearing?”

“Just exploring,” I’d say, as though there was much to explore in that patch of countryside hell.

It was in late July when the trailer caught on fire while we were sleeping, just a few weeks before the start of my 4th grade year. No one was hurt because we all got out in time, but we definitely had to move. The Army put us up in military housing on base, and for the first time I can recall, I lived in a place with A/C.

The following year, there were auditions for 5th grade choir, and throwing caution to the wind, I walked into the choir teacher’s room when my turn came and proceeded, in my pre-adolescent 1st Soprano voice, to belt out the tune I had sung so many times on that hot and dusty countryside road.

I’m not even gonna pretend that I didn’t nail it. I sang that ballad like my life depended on it, and when I had finished, a few moments passed, and the choir teacher, mouth slightly agape, asked: “Where did that come from?”

“It’s from Grease”, I told her, completely oblivious, my then-11 year-old-self surprised she hadn’t yet seen it. “It’s really good. You should watch it.”

She laughed and mercifully said: “I’ll do that.”

I didn’t grow up to be Olivia Newton-John, but I did grow up in a world made a little brighter by her voice, both in song and advocacy.

Because she strongly supported LGBTQ people, I grew up in a world made a little safer and a little more authentic for girls like me.

I’m only sorry I never got to tell her that. Thanks, Olivia. Rest easy.

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Charlotte's Web Thoughts
Charlotte's Web Thoughts
Charlotte Clymer is a writer and LGBTQ advocate. You've probably seen her on Twitter (@cmclymer). This is the podcast version of her blog "Charlotte's Web Thoughts", which you can subscribe to here: